Qatar could lead the world in arid organic farming – and save water!

Charbel Akiki's picture
Charbel Akiki
Akiki Organics, Farmers Markets

The Qatar National Vision 2030 “envisages a vibrant and prosperous future … in which nature and man are in harmony” and to “protect its unique environment and nurture the abundance of nature granted by God .. including biological diversity”.  In addition, the issue of food security, especially in an arid environment, means that Qatar has to not only protect its natural environment but also provide new and sustainable food sources.

For many centuries, Qatari farmers practiced a natural organic way of bringing up livestock and growing various crops.  In more recent times, these natural ways of farming have been largely replaced in the developed world by highly intensive, chemical-dependent methods, relying on constant intervention and continued application of synthetic and sometimes toxic pesticides, nitrates and antibiotics. 

A recent survey carried out by Mr Charbel Akiki (of Akiki Organics, here in Qatar) and Professor William Scott-Jackson, based in Oxford, has explored the feasibility and potential market for these traditional methods, but updated to reflect 21st Century science in organic farming. This survey found that there is indeed a market for organic farming and that Qatar could lead the world in the application of organic farming in arid environments.

What is organic farming?

Organic farming is about freedom, freedom for fruit and veg to grow at their own pace, freedom for animals to roam and eat a natural diet and freedom from synthetic input. The use of pesticides, nitrates, antibiotics and genetically modified foodstuffs are prohibited by organic regulation and farms are closely inspected to ensure high standards of food production are adhered to. Farming to Demeter standards (www.biodynamic.org.uk) food is produced unadulterated without additives, solvents or irradiation with external inputs kept to a minimum.

The Survey

The survey found that 99% of Qatar residents (including Qataris and over 15 other nationalities) would prefer to buy organic  food if it were readily available and over 77% would prefer organic food even if it were 20% more expensive.

Over 90% believe organic food is better for health with over 70% believing it is better for the environment and better for children. There is much scientific evidence to demonstrate that organic farming is better for biodiversity (crucial for Qatar’s eco-system), and just under 45% recognised this as well better for food security and better tasting. 

Although nearly 100% thought organic food should be easily available, less than 20% found it easy to source organic food.

The residents also mentioned the following benefits of organic production.

On arid environments such as Qatar, water conservation is crucial A study by Cornell University in 2005 found that organic farming produces the same yields as conventional farming but used 30 percent less energy and less water, as well as yielding healthier produce and not contributing to groundwater pollution.

Similarly, Indian rice farmers cited in a 2007 World Wildlife Foundation study claimed that the system of rice intensification (SRI) helped them yield more crop with less water.  A new analysis of more than 100 studies, from the University of California, Berkeley, concluded that organic farming created a unique mix of biodiversity in the soil and surrounding environment that is difficult to mimic with synthetic chemicals.

There is an active and largely untapped market for organic food in Qatar, even at a premium price, and it would be quite feasible for organic food to be grown in existing Qatari farm environments. Organic farming, to be successful, does require expertise and especially in the arid hot conditions in Qatar.  Mr Charbel Akiki is now keen to set up a model organic farm in order to demonstrate the technical feasibility and benefits to Qatar and its people and to support Qatar National Vision 2030 and to serve as an exemplar across the region.  Please contact on +97466983686 or charbel@akiki.co.uk if you wish to support this brave new venture.